One Eyed Cat
The first shortlisted entry in our ‘This Means War’ short story competition
Feargal Hand, a 23-year-old from Cavan, has recently qualified as an English and history teacher
Theresa was tired. You could see it in her eyes and the way she would rub a hand down her face when she thought nobody was looking at her. She didn’t sleep as much as she should have. She didn’t have the time. Guests were arriving from America for Christmas. She stood at the window and watched the car come into the driveway. Before they came to the door she moved to the mirror in the hall and looked at her eyes. She rubbed at them and blinked and then went out to meet her guests. A woman younger than herself and a boy of seventeen were taking their bags from the boot of the car.
Allison. Chris. Hello. Hi. Welcome. Let me help you with those, said Theresa.
The woman looked up and smiled and said no don’t be silly that’s okay. The boy said nothing. They walked back inside. The crunch of the light snow under their feet was the only noise.
Her children Niall and Nicole were in the hall waiting and everyone greeted one another. Niall was clearly excited. He had only met Chris once five years ago on a brief holiday to New York. Right away he asked him did he want to see his history books. It took a while for Chris to answer. He looked puzzled. Allison gave him a light kick before he said yes, but Niall didn’t seem to notice.
The two of them went to Niall’s room. It was small and made smaller by how much was in it. His bookshelf was full and beside it were stacks of books that would not fit. There was little fiction. The books were mostly history books. All of them were in relation to some war or another. There were no posters but there was an old framed photo of a man with a great white beard sat with his back straight, his hands laid flat on his lap and his gaze into the camera.
I remember you said you liked reading about soldiers too said Niall. I love it. Look at all of this.
He stood and smiled at Chris who ran his hands across the backs of the books and looked around the room. Who’s this in the photo? He said.
That’s my great grandfather who was a soldier. He fought in the World War One.
Chris raised his eyebrows and nodded.
I think maybe he’s yours too.
Do you want to borrow one of my books? There’s some great ones on that war and there’s a part in this one about a battle great-Granddad was at.
Maybe later I will.
In the kitchen Theresa and Allison sat with mugs of tea.
I’m sorry I couldn’t come for it, said Theresa.
Don’t be. I know you would have if you could. You had your own.
How is Chris?
I don’t know… he misses him I think. Have you heard from?
No. Not in a long time.
It’s fine. I don’t want to hear.
They finished their drinks quietly. Allison said she was tired and goodnight and went to bed. Theresa moved to the window and looked out at the fresh falling snow. In the light cast from the house she saw a cat stepping softly through the snow. When it came opposite her it turned its head to look at her and arched its back and hissed and dashed into the dark spraying the powder that seemed to hang in the air like dust in a beam of light. It had just the one eye.
The next day Nicole brought her friend Sorcha to the house . The two of them and Chris sat in the room with the television talking quietly and laughing loudly. From the kitchen Theresa watched Niall walk to the door and walk away again without going in. He came into the kitchen and sat with his head in his hands and sighed. Theresa rubbed his hair and he shrugged her off. Allison stood outside with a cigarette.
Outside the snow had been building. Theresa told Niall it hadn’t been this bad since before he was born.
This good you mean.
Is it really good? It’s cold and wet.
But Christmas should have snow and we can have snowball fights.
If you say so. Why aren’t you inside with your sister and cousin?
They don’t want me.
How do you know that?
You didn’t even go in there.
He looked at the door, then put his head down in his arms. I know, he said.
Later in the day they left the room and Niall went in and sat close to the television. He watched The Flintstones. He smiled the whole time but didn’t laugh. Nicole came back in. Her eyes were wide.
What are you doing?
Niall looked up at her.
Why do you watch this old shit? she said.
Chris and Sorcha came in then. She had her arm around his waist and was laughing. He looked like he wasn’t sure where he was. He laughed when he saw the television. No way! The Flintstones! he said. Niall got up and left. They were all laughing at something and he felt too warm.
The next morning Theresa went to work. As she walked to the car the big one-eyed cat crawled from beneath it and walked away looking at her. Allison came down at breakfast and found her gone and sat at the table with a mug of instant coffee. When she finished she said aloud she had a headache and went back to her room and closed the curtains. Niall was the only one there. He was reading Siegfried Sassoon poems his father had given him years before in the armchair by the stove. He didn’t hear her.
After she left Chris came in and sat beside Niall. He was smiling.
Hey, whatcha reading? Poems? Cool. Hey, wanna go outside? Snowball fight?
Niall sucked in his cheeks and ran his hand through his hair. Okay he said and Chris grinned and laughed.
Niall walked outside with his heavy coat on. His breath misted. The garden looked bigger in white. He walk around the house stepped slowly through the snow trying to make perfect footprints. Across the lawn Nicole and Sorcha were standing together talking. Niall crouched down and packed snow tightly together between his hands. He stood and walked closer to them before he drew back his arm and threw it. It hit Nicole in the leg. Fuck off, she shouted at him. He turned and laughed and ran. Something struck him hard in the back of the head and knocked him on his face. He turned over and Chris was coming towards him holding snowballs. Nicole and Sorcha were closer and laughing with snowballs in their hands. The three of them threw snow on him. They took off his hat and rubbed it on his head. They unzipped his coat and put now down his shirt and walked back to the house laughing.
Niall lay in the snow gasping and shaking and shut his eyes tight to not cry.
That night Niall sat in his pyjamas and wrapped in a blanket watching Looney Toons. He was wrapped in the blanket like a cocoon and sat staring silently. Chris came in and sat beside him.
Hey, what’s up dude? That was pretty funny this morning, right? We got you, man.
Elmer shot Daffy and spun his bill around his head. Daffy twisted it back and said this means war. Niall said aloud after him. When the episode ended Chris took the remote control and changed channel. Niall got up and went to bed.
Before the sun rose, Niall did. He dressed in the dark and crept down out of the house. The snow creaked like old floorboards beneath his boots. It had not snowed again but it had gotten colder and a hard frost covered everything outside. The air stung his face. He got to work making his snowballs. He scraped the harder snow from the bottom and that flattened by feet and packed it tight between his hands. He made three balls that were small but hard and he hid them in the freezer and went back to bed.
Theresa’s alarm rang soon after and she rose and showered and dressed and went to work. The one-eyed cat sat on the wall along the driveway staring at her dolefully. She didn’t like the cat. She came home hours later and went straight to making dinner. Over and over she rubbed her face. She could hear there was talk at the table but could not make any of it out.
Oh here, you look tired.
Allison was taking the plates from the table. Theresa smiled vaguely and sat back down. She couldn’t remember standing
I’ll get dessert said Niall.
Theresa nodded. Yes.
And then there was a shout of shock and pain. And a scream. She saw Nicole with her hands on her face. She was crying. She saw Niall with his mouth and eyes wide and afraid with snowballs in his arm. It was Allison screaming. Chris held his hands to his face. His mouth was opening and closing like he wanted to shout but had no voice. There was blood coming from between his fingers.
Quick move your hands let me see let me see she said and took hold of his wrists and gently took them from his face. There was a piece of dark ice lodged beside his nose that had cut into his eye and carved it open like a piece of fruit.
Niall ran to his room and lay down and covered his head like bombs were going to fall. No one came to his room. He heard a car pull away from the house and stood up and saw it in the distance leaving. He felt lightheaded and unsure whether anything was real. He walked to his bookshelf and took one down, opened it and torn pages out. They fell to the floor like lost feathers. He torn more and more till the book had none and then he took down another book. Each book that he loved came apart.
Theresa came home with Nicole and sent her to her room. She had to wait herself at the bottom of the stairs and take deep breaths before she climbed them. The sight of the white pages stuck her first when she entered Niall’s room which for a moment made her think of snow and an anger rose in her that she had lost in the hallways of the hospital. Niall sat against the wall with his knees drawn to his chest and his head down. Theresa walked to him and hit him with an open hand against his leg, his shoulder and hard on the side of his head knocking him over. He didn’t make a sound. She walked quickly from the room and downstairs and found the hidden whiskey and poured it into a glass. She sat at the table with it and with her hands in fist pushed them to her temples and scrunched her eyes closed.
In his room Niall crawled across the floor and onto his bed. He curled into a ball and started to cry and scratch his face until the blood he drew began to sting his eyes. His whole body shook. After some time had gone by his mother came back in and lay down beside him. She put her arms around him and for a while they both slept.
Feargal Hand is 23, from Cavan and has studied in NUIG and UCC. He recently qualified to teach English and history.